Stories from the Stringam Family Ranches of Southern Alberta

From the 50s and 60s to today . . .



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Thursday, April 11, 2013

Crying Over Un-spilt Milk


Yummy deliciousness. Not.
Milk. That commodity touted as one of the world’s most perfect foods. So important to growing bones and teeth. Or so it was described in the 50’s.
Like other ranching families, the Stringams had their own milk production system.
Bossy.
Not an original name, but at least it gave her a slight distinctive edge over 53. And 175. And 92. And . . . you get the picture.
Bossy was gentle. Quiet. Dependable. Everything a milk cow should be. Her milk production was high. Higher than most dairy cows. For that reason, she had been a family fixture for many years.
She also had a problem. But I am getting ahead of myself.
Every morning Dad, or one of the hired men, would carry home a galvanized steel pail filled with warm, rich, frothy milk, compliments of Bossy. This milk was then poured through a straining cloth into another pail and ‘purified’, then poured into sterilized jars.
The jars of still-warm milk were distributed to the various households on the ranch. Bossy was truly a remarkable cow to fill the needs of so many.
In the evening, the same procedure was repeated, only the captured milk was poured through the separator and the resultant thick, rich cream used for such remarkable things as ice cream, cream puffs, pastries, and many other treats aptly designed to satisfy the sweet tooth of every child - and most of the adults - living there.
The milk from which the cream had been removed, or ‘blue’ milk was given to the pigs, who thought they were in heaven.
It was a prefect system. Not a drop wasted.
Then the milk . . . changed.
At first, Dad thought the cow had gotten into a patch of weeds. Not an unknown thing on any ranch. The result of such a change in diet usually reflected, quickly but briefly, in the milk.
Onions make for a really . . . interesting . . . milk flavour. But I digress . . .
For some time, the milk continued to taste strange. But the processes remained the same. The milk was distributed. Separated. Consumed.
Then the rebellions started. Small at first.
“Mom, this milk tastes icky (real word)!”
“You’re imagining things, dear. Drink it.”
“Mom, it stinks!”
“Drink!”
Then larger.
“Mom if I have to drink one more glass of that milk, I’m going to be sick!”
“You need the calcium! Now drink!”
Mom was not unaware that the milk was distinctly off. But she was very concerned about giving her growing family the nutrition they needed.
Occasionally, she would bring home a container of milk from the store.
Which disappeared. Magically.
And also coined another phrase. “I’m going to stop buying this milk! You kids just drink it!”
Ummmm . . .
Finally, Mom got to the point where, if anyone complained about the milk, she would taste it, smack her lips appreciatively and say, “What’s wrong with that milk? There’s nothing wrong with that milk! It tastes just fine!”
As time passed, she got more and more creative in trying to get the horrible stuff past our pre-adolescent taste buds. She put it into puddings. Soups. Desserts.
And still we whined.
Then that glorious day. Dad went out to milk . . . and found the cow dead.
Our celebrations could be heard in Lethbridge.
An autopsy revealed what the rest of us had suspected for three long years. That the cow had something seriously wrong.
She had, sometime while grazing, ingested a piece of metal and it had become lodged in her system, affecting her milk production. Eventually, it had worked its way through something important internally, and had been the cause of her death.
There was no grieving.
Dad bought a new cow. A healthy, young one. And the ‘milk distribution system’ resumed as though it had never been interrupted.
With one important change. Whenever any of us was given a glass of milk, we would sniff it suspiciously. Even forty-five years after the described events.
Old habits die hard.
Kind of like our cow.

There is a codicil.
Years later, when my family and I were attending my parents 40th wedding anniversary, my children and I performed a skit. They were seated around a picnic table and I poured each of them an imaginary glass of milk, which they then ‘drank’.
Clutching their throats, each then succumbed to the terrible poison that had been ingested. Gasping out their last breaths, one by one, they collapsed onto the grass beneath the table, twitched a few times, then lay still. I picked up one of the imaginary glasses, pretended to take a drink, smacked my lips and said, “What’s wrong with that milk? There’s nothing wrong with that milk! It tastes just fine!”
At which point my eldest brother leaped to his feet and shouted, “IT DID! IT TASTED THAT BAD!!!”
Spill this milk. Please.

Really dead.
Hardware disease. Not uncommon and distinctly nasty.
Poor Bossy.

6 comments:

  1. Horrible way for the poor beast to go but maybe not as bad as the agony suffered among the milk drinkers.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. We always tried to figure out who suffered more . . .

      Delete
  2. Oh, my. And Poor Bossy indeed.

    It surprises me a little that the milk was safe, considering the off taste.

    But still, Poor Bossy!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. We wondered about the milk safety ourselves. In fact, I'm sure we used that argument frequently.
      Poor Bossy, indeed. Plus she had to have calved three times to keep on producing for those years.

      Delete
  3. I had to milk that cow. The stench from that carmel looking substance was almost unbearable. One almost had to light up a cigar for fresh air. The cats would sit and wait for me to squirt milk at them only to suddenly back away and hiss at that smelly stream.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. See? Even the cats were smarter than we were . . .

      Delete

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Diane was born and raised on one of the last of the great old Southern Alberta ranches. A way of life that is fast disappearing now. Through her memories and stories, she keeps it alive. And even, at times, accurate . . .

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